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‘Substantial remodel’ — a legal loophole to evict tenants in LA

Erica Rede never thought the installation of some new appliances could lead to an eviction.

Rede says she’d always paid her rent on time, and had been living in her South Pasadena apartment, with her son (a recent South Pas High grad), for seven years when her building was purchased by a new landlord. Soon after that, a vacant neighboring unit got new flooring, new heating and cooling, a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. But rather than hope her apartment would soon gain these amenities, Rede worried.

Then, in July 2022 during the countywide Covid eviction moratorium, Rede received an eviction notice, saying “the basis for the termination is that the Premises [sic] will be substantially remodeled” — her fear was coming true.

Rede’s story is all too common across LA County: Through a loophole in the state’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (TPA), landlords can push tenants out to facilitate a “substantial remodel” — though what exactly constitutes “substantial” has always been fuzzy.

State reaches settlement over pandemic rent relief: What tenants and landlords need to know

Tenants’ rights advocates and the California Department of Housing and Community Development reached a settlement this week to address processing delays and denials in rent relief applications for eligible tenants, meaning more renters could soon get financial aid.

During the pandemic, California tasked the department with administering more than $5 billion in state and federal funds to assist vulnerable tenants with rent relief through California’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The agency closed the application portal at the end of March 2022.

A surge in denials beginning after the closure propelled advocates to sue, alleging that eligible renters were rejected and left without financial aid. By July, around 30% of applicants had been denied assistance from the program, even though 93% were likely eligible for debt relief, according to the National Equity Atlas, an organization that reports on racial and economic equity.

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Pandemic Relief Program Left Many California Renters Struggling

Blake Phillips is pretty sure he did everything right, which makes it all the more baffling to the Los Angeles resident that he slowly went broke, lost his restaurant business and was eventually forced to move out of his home and in with friends.

He did all this while waiting for pandemic rental relief from the state of California, which, though promised and approved, has still not arrived.

“I went from being a small business owner, middle class, paying my bills, to being completely wiped out,” Phillips said. “I lost everything because of the rent program.”

The program in question was operated by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), and it was designed specifically to protect both renters and landlords during the worst of the COVID-19 emergency. As businesses were forced to close, rendering many workers jobless and suddenly behind on their payments, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) was created early in 2021 to fill the financial gaps.

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Tenant Groups Reach Settlement With State Of California Over Applicants Stuck In Rent Relief Limbo

Los Angeles tenant groups announced Monday they have settled their lawsuit against the state of California over how housing department officials handled the state’s rent relief program.

The deal gives tenants another chance to have their rent relief application reviewed or to appeal a denial. An estimated 331,000 L.A. area households remain behind on rent, and many of them are now facing possible eviction.

“Hopefully, people who were quickly denied in the past will actually be approved when the state is forced to look a little bit closer,” said Legal Aid Foundation of L.A. attorney Jonathan Jager. He worked on the legal team that brought the lawsuit forward on behalf of L.A.-based tenant group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, statewide advocacy organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and national research institute PolicyLink.

During the pandemic, California’s Housing Is Key program came under fire for being difficult to access, or even understand, especially for low-income tenants who didn’t own computers or speak English. The lawsuit sought to address those disparities, and get eligible tenants connected to the relief they were promised.

California rent relief is still available for thousands of tenants who were denied COVID assistance

More than 100,000 California tenants whose applications for COVID-era rental assistance were denied or delayed by the state’s housing department will get another shot at relief, thanks to a new legal settlement between the state and a coalition of anti-poverty and tenant rights groups.

More aid isn’t guaranteed. But under the terms of the settlement signed at the end of last month, California’s Housing and Community Development Department agreed to audit its past denials and improve multilingual access for tenants who don’t speak English as a first language.

It also agreed to flesh out the appeal process for applicants and provide more detailed explanations when it denies an application. And it committed to providing more data on the race, ethnicity and location of those who were denied help.

California’s housing department received $5.2 billion in federal relief funds in 2021 to help struggling tenants keep up with rent while the state’s economy ground to a halt during the height of the pandemic. The program ended in March 2022.

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Homelessness Prevention Act Passes Senate Judiciary with Leadership Majority

Sacramento (Calif.) — Today a major step forward to stem the rise of homelessness and protect California renters and tenants —the Homelessness Prevention Act (SB 567) authored by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles)—passed through the Senate Judiciary committee with a leadership majority. As evictions rise and homelessness increases, SB 567 responds to the lived experience millions of California’s renters face by strengthening The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (AB 1482) to protect families from falling into homelessness. Hundreds of our neighbors who rent in California—including labor, advocates, and faith leaders—gathered at the state capitol to tell their stories and voice their strong support of SB567. The Homelessness Prevention Act closes easily exploitable loopholes used by unscrupulous corporate landlords and provides enforcement tools that protect our neighbors—workers, families, and seniors—from arbitrary evictions and displacement. 

The Homelessness Prevention Act is being co-sponsored by ACCE, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, Public Advocates, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. With over 250 diverse organizations supporting the bill, this powerful coalition is led by a steering committee composed of the co-sponsors as well as Housing Now!, Inner City Law Center, the Million Voters Project, PolicyLink, and Tenants Together, united in an effort to make housing affordable and disrupt the displacement crisis that is disproportionately impacting working class communities of color. 

“I want to thank our community and partners for working diligently with us to pass a key policy vote. SB 567 is committed to closing existing loopholes in state tenant protections law and ensuring it is enforced,” said Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles).  “These are key components to advance as we seek to proactively address the state homelessness humanitarian crisis, by keeping our families in their homes. I look forward to continuing to see this measure move ahead.”

“As a single mom of two kids that is currently receiving a no-fault ‘substantial renovation’ eviction for a plumbing job that only takes a few days, passing Senate Bill 567 feels like a life and death situation for me. If we are not allowed to return to our home at the rent amount we had paid before our plumbing was repaired, we will likely be homeless. Everyone deserves safe, healthy and affordable housing – and that means repairs without rent hikes or evictions. I am grateful that the Senate Judiciary committee took an important step forward towards realizing that value today, and at ACCE we look forward to working with legislators to lower the rent cap moving forward.” – Patricia Mendoza, leader with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), resident of Imperial Beach

“For our low-income rural and farmworker clients, this bill provides vital improvements to the Tenant Protection Act and we are pleased that the measure approved by the Judiciary Committee retains critical provisions to close loopholes in the Act that have left too many of our clients vulnerable to eviction,” said Brian Augusta, Legislative Advocate, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

“SB 567 passing means that my family doesn’t have to fear our landlord kicking us out onto the streets just to raise rents. These protections give us the peace of mind to know our home is safe from predatory landlords exploiting loopholes in AB 1482.” Alejandra Velasco, leader with Faith in the Valley, a PICO California Federation, resident of Taft.

“There’s never a dull moment in the legislature. A last minute agreement helped move this bill forward, unfortunately without the rent cap,” said Michelle Pariset, Director of Legislative Affairs, Public Advocates. “Closing the loopholes in just cause protections will benefit millions of California renters and we need to make these laws enforceable. We’re excited for the next step.”

California legislators must use every tool available to keep people housed as we’re facing a housing and homelessness crisis. The passage of this bill is a step in that direction to prevent unjust evictions. We look forward to working with legislators on advancing key enforcement protections,” said Tina Rosales, policy advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty.

In order to address California’s growing affordable housing and homelessness pandemic our state’s leadership must first prevent more community members from being unhoused; creating stronger renter protections that help every Californian have access to safe shelter is one cost-effective solution. As inflation soars and state and local eviction protections enacted during the pandemic come to an end, the gaps in existing state protections are impacting more and more renters, who are facing significant rent increases and a spike in “no fault” evictions. The Homelessness Prevention Act will provide critical safeguards to stop abuses and ensure that renters can stay in their homes.

We hope our elected leaders will partner with Senator Durazo to help keep families housed and our diverse communities together.

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Additional Resources: SB 567 Homelessness Prevention Act Fact Sheets are available in Armenian, Chinese, English, Filipino, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.  

Court orders California to pause denying pandemic rent aid

“We have to keep people housed,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty, in a statement. “That’s why we filed this lawsuit — the program was created to prevent evictions but falls woefully short.”

https://www.pe.com/2022/07/13/court-orders-california-to-pause-denying-pandemic-rent-aid/

California can’t deny pending applications for rent relief while its denials are under review, judge says

“That hearing will probably take place in September, said attorney Lorraine Lopez of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of the organizations representing the renters. During the interim, Lopez and her colleagues said, nearly 100,000 households will be entitled to rental benefits without interference by the department.”

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